About a year ago, I started to understand Mutual Aid as an ecosystem, and have since only found that to be more and more true. Most of us have been brought up to believe in a model of the world that is based in scarcity—the idea that people lack the essentials because there aren't enough resources for everyone. But from my perspective there is actually plenty to meet everyone’s needs. And Mutual Aid to me is about being a conduit by which the ecosystem helps itself. Once you know that’s what we are here for, you start seeing it everywhere.
This thought first occurred to me when one of my neighbors put shoes out on their steps with a sign that said “FREE.” I grabbed them on my way to run errands, figuring I would find some use for them. My first errand was to the gas station, where I saw a man walking without shoes. I started filling my tank, and took a look at the shoes I had just picked up. Size 11. I asked the man if he needed shoes. He said yes. When I asked his shoe size, he answered “Size 11.”
I started to notice the ecosystem everywhere.
I saw it when a local Mutual Aid group heard that hundreds of pallets of hand sanitizing wipes were about to go to a landfill. Members called on the network of available folks, diverted a semi-truck worth of wipes, and distributed them to peer Mutual Aid groups.
I see it each time a production set donates excess catering, and volunteers pick up and distribute meals.
I see the ecosystem at every Produce in the Park. Here’s what having enough people to connect the dots accomplishes:
- Providing good produce to the University Park community as well as many other communities via the LA Community Fridges.
- Lessens the environmental impact of food waste
- Repurposes plastic grocery bags, sourced by our team through Buy Nothing groups
- Donated clothes and items going directly to community members by way of a swap table/ free table.
- A local resident collects and sells the large amount of cardboard the produce comes in, rather than it burdening volunteers or park maintenance.
Sometimes greed tries to obstruct the ecosystem. Companies regularly destroy products in order to keep the prices high. But dumpster divers have disrupted this practice—one person even repaired slashed dog beds, sewing patches on by hand, and donating them to an animal shelter.
The better companies ensure that their products aren’t going to waste. Starting Jan. 1st, 2024, SB1383 is going to require food businesses donate edible food, that they would otherwise dispose of, to food recovery orgs. But several companies haven’t waited and are already got a start coordinating with local groups so that meals can be picked up and distributed to unhoused and food insecure folks throughout LA.
I don’t see scarcity anymore. The only thing I see the need for is more people power to tap the abundance that is all around us. More people can connect more dots. That’s what this dispatch is striving to do, (and just maybe encourage/empower/enable you to do). So here’s to learning what people need, seeing the abundance all around us, and taking those often simple steps to connect the dots.
Written by Nicole who organizes with MALAN & West Valley Mutual Aid